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Read Brave is a city-wide one book project in Saint Paul, Minnesota, facilitated by a small but passionate group from the Saint Paul Public Library’s Createch program, part of the YOUmedia Learning Labs Network. Marika Staloch, one of the facilitators, recently spoke with K-Fai Steele, of the YOUmedia Network and the National Writing Project. You can listen to the full interview below.
Youth Services Coordinator Marika Staloch came upon the idea for Read Brave a few years ago, during a conversation with young adult author A.S. King. Staloch had been considering ways to improve attendance and engagement at the library’s author events, and King shared the success of a one book project she’d been a part of in a smaller town. Staloch loved the idea and soon the project was born, with King signed up to be its first author.
Today, the project reaches teens and adults all over the city. Each year the library chooses a young adult novel, and works with partners to get the book in as many hands as possible. School and community groups meet to discuss the book, culminating in two days of talks and workshops put on by the author themselves.
“They come in for two days and they come into our schools, into our rec centers, into our libraries, and are spending two full days straight, we really exhaust these authors. And they get grilled from some of these teens,” Staloch says.
At the core of the program is a desire to use young adult literature to create intergenerational dialogue about what it’s like to be a teen. “We want to make sure that teens have a chance to talk about issues that happen in their lives based on what’s in the books, and that adults would have a chance to have these conversations with teens in a way that wasn’t asking the the teen about themselves, it’s asking the teen about characters in the books. It opened up some really great conversations.”
Part of encouraging these conversations is picking books that will engage teen and adult readers from the first page, as well as titles that push boundaries in some way, bringing up real issues in teens lives that parents and kids might otherwise find too uncomfortable to discuss.
In its early days, the project was picked up by a few charter schools in town, but before long it had spread to the local district schools as well. “We went through their media specialists, and they would offer the book to the teens, and start getting mass groups of kids who were really excited and involved, and then we’d bring the author to them,” says Staloch. “And then English teachers started picking up on this and hearing about it, so they wanted to grow into this as well.”
Throughout this expansion the library has taken on the role of open-ended facilitator, rather than trying to control the entire program. “We’ve learned that the best thing we can do is just build the structure for it, and then let everyone else pick up the structure and do what they need to. So we set it up so that our Read Brave partners decide how they’re going to bring it to their kids.”
In the years since the project began it has expanded not only into the schools, but also into the city’s community centers, a local bookstore, and even a mother-child book club at a nearby women’s prison.
Staloch’s advice for those wanting to start a Read Brave-style project of their own? Just start! “Start small, but start, just do something….It will grow on its own because people get excited about it….Start with a small group of people who are passionate about it and you can do it.”
For more about the Read Brave project, including its history, its logistics, and advice for starting a one book project of your own, check out the full interview: